When the Washington Mystics took the court at the beginning of the second half against the Chicago Sky, they were clinging to a one-point lead in a game that had already seen five lead changes.
That was when Kelly Miller stepped in to give her team some breathing room, drilling a 3-pointer to extend the Mystics’ lead to 38-34.
Both teams struggled to find their rhythm on offense for much of the third quarter, but Chicago trailed by just two when timeout was called with 3:48 to play in the period. Then Miller stepped in again, knocking down her second 3.
But it wasn’t only her long-range shooting that helped the Mystics separate in the final minutes of the third quarter. When she was fouled on Washington’s next offensive possession, Miller made all three free throw attempts, giving her team an eight-point advantage and effectively sealing the win. After Crystal Langhorne made a long field goal to increase the lead to 50-40, Chicago never came within nine points, eventually falling 66-55.
Miller finished the afternoon with 12 points to match her total from the Mystics’ first preseason game. Langhorne led all scorers with 15. But the two players combined for 14 trips to the line. The free throw attempts were particularly disruptive for Chicago.
“Foul a 3-point shooter and they shoot three free throws, and another thing about it is that you can’t get into rhythm,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “The clock is stopping every minute and a half, there’s no rhythm, you can’t get transition baskets. We have some goals in terms of transitions, but it’s difficult to run when you’re taking the ball out of the net because they shot 27 free throws.”
Alana Beard played in her second game since returning from an injury that sidelined her for all of 2010 and was one of two Washington players who did not score a point in this game. Even though she went 0-for-7 from the field, Beard found other ways to contribute, collecting four rebounds and two assists in nearly 24 minutes of play.
Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles, who led her team with six rebounds and scored 10 points, credited the Sky defense with shutting Beard down.
“She got some good looks early. But that’s the game,” Fowles said. “I think our defense picked up. Alana’s going to get her points. I think the biggest thing is just to play team defense. Once you do that as a team, it’ll eliminate those options.”
Mystics coach Trudi Lacey was not worried about Beard’s play, calling the entire offense a work in progress.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Lacey said. “We knew that it would take her some time to get her timing back. She’s almost like a new player, in that the players that were here last year didn’t have an opportunity to play with her.”
Beard echoed her coach’s words, acknowledging that it would take time for her to return to form and learn to play with her teammates.
“I have to trust in the process,” she said. “I can’t expect to jump right in and be where I left off.”